Anatomy of a Lengthy Rejection Letter

Dear James,

Thanks for sending me your manuscript – and for your kind words about [I name dropped, sue me]. I like what you’ve got here, but the market for drug memoirs is really shitty right now. The editors I know and trust most just aren’t looking for almost any kind of memoir like they used to, and drug stories have always been tough (perhaps strangely, much much tougher than alcohol stories). Despite that, I kept reading because you’ve got a good voice and some nice perspective. I’m sorry to say I can’t take it on because of the publishing industry, not because of your work. I hope you find an enthusiastic agent who loves your work and doesn’t share my reservations about the current market. Thanks for giving me the chance. If this doesn’t find a home and you have anything else down the line, feel free to get back in touch.

 

Wow. Okay. Where do I begin? For starters, all one ever expects is a form letter. So right off the bat, this guy is awesome. I wish I could prove that this is genuine—which, in itself, is ludicrous on several levels, beginning with why would it matter? Like anyone is reading this. (Since learning how to check my “stats,” I’ve become obsessed with doing so, and I am getting some traffic, but nobody ever comments, ever.) Also, why the hell would I fabricate a phony rejection letter? Is it even possible for a writer to be that desperate for material? And finally, there probably is a way to prove that I cut and pasted from my inbox, but I don’t know these things. I don’t right click much.

I must keep things in perspective. There are whole workshops devoted solely to getting agents to look at your manuscript—a hurdle I seem to have cleared, finally, so I’m certainly not going to whine. Querying is just about the most amorphous, nebulous, subjective thing ever. Right now I feel like the cute guy from out of town, crashing on his cute friend’s couch. I seem interesting.

Okay, back to the letter. Let’s take it line by line, shall we?

1. “Thank you for sending me the manuscript.”

–That’s rich: he’s thanking me. I’m leaving him anonymous, not because I think it’d be wrong to mention his name, but because who he is doesn’t matter. He’s big, with big-name clients, and he accepts queries in the form of a letter and, mind-bogglingly, the full manuscript itself. Attached. That’s right. He’ll open attachments. He’s not even picky. You can send him a PDF, .doc, .docx, whatever. There’s literally no reason not to query this guy—barring human decency, which is the real reason why I’m leaving him anonymous. I simply won’t contribute to the deluge of shitty manuscripts that surely jam up his inbox. Based on his letter alone, I respect this guy way too much.

2. “I like what you’ve got here, but the market for drug memoirs is really shitty right now.”

–Shit, man. I could chew on this one for a while. He “likes” what I’ve got, which, I suppose, implies that he didn’t “love” it, but more on that later. The market for drug memoirs is really shitty right now? First of all, he could’ve said that the market was “down,” or “poor,” or “weak,” or “has fallen off,” or whatever polite, euphemistic terminology. He called the market “shitty,” and I like that. It’s very no BS. But the meat of it—that my particular subject matter isn’t selling right now—is somewhat disheartening. No, let me rephrase that. It’s annoying. First of all, doesn’t it always seem that way? I mean, was there ever a time when publishing execs were saying, “This is awesome, you know, because vampire love triangles are really hot right now.” Or, “Wow, fan fiction involving S&M with Americans using British slang and a narrator whose favorite expression is ‘holy crap’—jeez, that’ll sell millions.” Nobody knows what makes a hit. Nobody. And I understand that, from a marketing standpoint, my project would be pigeonholed as a “drug memoir.” And that sucks. Because my book isn’t about drugs. Or drug dealing. At all.

3. “The editors I know and trust most just aren’t looking for almost any kind of memoir like they used to, and drug stories have always been tough…”

–This sentence, as is, is flabby, but that’s totally unimportant. It’s basically a reiteration of the previous line, but he really seems to want me to understand why he won’t take me on a client, and I find that endearing, truly. I’m somewhat torn about the “editors I know and trust” part. I get knowing them, but to an unpublished writer, any editor willing to buy the manuscript sounds good. Besides, everyone knows that editors don’t really edit anymore, so what’s an “untrustworthy” one going to do? Acquire my manuscript unscrupulously? I know I’m just being silly about this, but again, it speaks to where I’m at. When, eventually, the market shifts and memoirs are (once again) all the rage, perhaps then I’ll understand what it means to avoid a disreputable editor. And as far as “drug stories have always been tough”—again, ugh. If you were to go through my book and substitute “chocolate” for “cocaine,” you’d have virtually the same story: a conflicted candy salesman (with a bit of a sweet tooth himself) who yearns to find meaning in his life. To make sense out of the chaos. To be loved. It’s the age-old tale. The one that sells. Again and again.

4. “Despite that, I kept reading because you have a good voice and some nice perspective.”

–Very flattering indeed. But it’s like filet mignon that’s slightly overcooked. Or a new lover whose sensibilities turned out to be almost as you’d imagined. I suppose I wish the adjectives were stronger. I’d have preferred “great” voice and “searing” perspective, but I’ll take “good” and “nice.” They’re way better than nothing. And of course I’d have preferred “unputdownable” to “kept reading,” but I’m quibbling now, aren’t I?

5. “I’m sorry to say I can’t take it on because of the publishing industry, not because of your work.”

–This guy is still going. He seems genuinely concerned that I’ll take his rejection personally—which, of course, I do.

6. “I hope you find an enthusiastic agent who loves your work and doesn’t share my reservations about the current market.”

–He sort of sounds like he’s breaking up with me now, and not only that, he sounds genuinely remorseful. If you look at the previous line, it sounds a lot like “It’s not you, it’s me”—which, clichéd as it is, isn’t so far-fetched. When breaking up, I always use some twist on that line, and I always mean it. Because it’s always my fault. Now, with this line (line 6), he’s using his own variation on “You deserve someone better”—which, personally, I’ve never used. Because I doubt I could choke those words out with a straight face.

7. “Thanks for giving me the chance.”

–Again, this guy kills me. Nicest. Agent. Ever.

8. “If this doesn’t find a home and you have anything else down the line, feel free to get back in touch.”

–Honestly, I wish this one were clearer. He seems to be saying that if I do find an agent for my manuscript, then that guy (or girl) will be my agent forevermore, thus I’d have no need to contact him ever again. Conversely, if no agent agrees to rep my current manuscript, then I should contact him again—provided I’ve written an entirely new manuscript. The completion of which will probably surpass ANYONE’S ability to remember me, let alone this particular agent.

Which is probably a good thing. Because what would I say? Remember me—I’m the guy who queried you years ago about his “drug memoir.” But never mind that. I’ve got a novel now, a good one. I wrote it for THE MARKET, so it’s soulless as hell, but it involves a divorced vampire who travels to three different continents tying people up…

*Author’s Note: As much as I like this piece, I’ve been a bit paranoid about it ever since a writer friend described the tone of it as “unclear.” For the record, it IS an actual letter, and these are like my id thoughts based on it. It’s meant to be fun and satirical and I have no beef with this particular agent, agents in general, or the publishing industry at large. Rejection is a big part of the gig for all of us, and we all gotta pay the rent. But we gotta smile, too, right? 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *